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Boxing clever

Review

Donald Judd At Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1, until 25 April

Donald Judd said in his essay 'Some Aspects of Colour in General and Red and Black in Particular' that 'material, space and colour are the main aspects of visual art', and certainly the exhibition at Tate Modern shows how Judd explored and developed those themes in his work. As the first major retrospective to be held since Judd's death 10 years ago, it has been eagerly awaited - and it does not disappoint.

The links between Minimal art (a term that Judd did not approve) and architecture have always been strong. Judd was influenced by the work of Mies, Le Corbusier and Kahn in particular, and many architects, notably the current Swiss school, have in turn been influenced by Judd. So now we look at him with new architectural eyes.

The exhibition focuses on Judd's generic internal objects - stacks, boxes and wall pieces. His work has no implied narrative meaning, nor is it meant to represent something else. They are 'just boxes', but boxes that are so precisely conceived, made and placed, boxes that stand strong yet have 'liquid' insides, that you think of 'boxes' in a different way.

There are no big surprises in the exhibition - previously unknown Judds - which is no bad thing because, without the shock of the new, you get the chance to really look and think.Those Plexiglas purples and ambers, the ice-white shimmer of aluminium, the changing depth within the shallow boxes and the apparently floating, rhythmic forms, make you question what is what, creating a tryst between the objects, the room and yourself.

Although there is an overall consistency to the work, the chronological hang demonstrates how the relationships between material, space and colour evolve, becoming more complex over time. External relationships begin to work with studies of interior depth, and the use of colour develops from being intrinsic to the material (Plexiglas, for example) to something that is applied and multiplied (the enamel pieces), or appears abstracted from the material base.

Given the focus on spatial relationships, the hang of an exhibition such as this is allimportant, and with the exception of some Judd-specified heights, the placing of the objects in relation to each other, and within the galleries as a whole, is in the control of the curator - in this case, Nicholas Serota.

For the most part, the hang is good: works are offset on walls and in plan in pleasing proportions, and are strengthened by long axial views. The stack pieces fit exactly between the floor and ceiling, and with just a slight expansion of the specified 4-inch space, the seven large-ply boxes sit snug within the gallery walls.

Some of the ceiling relationships are less successful, particularly where the vertical stacks have to compete with the light slots.

(It makes you question whether curators use reflected ceiling plans. ) But on the whole, Tate Modern is the perfect venue for this Judd show, and a synergy between artist and architect is apparent.Walls meet the floor in a simple direct manner; there are no obtrusive skirtings or continuous air slots to distract your eye.

But there is one disaster: timber fillets are fixed to the floor round almost every piece to keep you at a distance. One assumes that this decision was led by insurance demands, but the fillets so disrupt your experience of the works, particularly of the relationships between them, that they almost wreck the exhibition.When your experience is dictated by insurance, things have gone too far. Are we the victims of the Tate's success?

Because of the fillets, the show is much more introverted than Judd would have liked: the only way to ignore them is to stand up close. This focuses your attention on the deep interior of the works, at the expense of standing back and seeing them in context. In consequence, colour and material dominate over rhythm and space, disrupting the balance of the whole.

But we have the Tate itself for the wider spatial experience; not surprisingly, for it is well-known that Herzog & de Meuron admired Judd. As you leave the exhibition and travel down the double escalator to the ground floor, you descend through a Juddlike box - a simple space, but one whose surfaces play complex games with transparency and reflection. It is particularly Judd-like at the moment, with the orange glow oozing out from Olafur Eliasson's Weather Project in the neighbouring Turbine Hall. Tate Modern is still the best architectural experience in town. We have Judd to thank for that.

Sarah Jackson is an architect in London

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